‘Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities’

I recently came across the following passage and though it was published in 1909, I suddenly had a feeling it was being written about America in 2019:

The ordinary people of the villages think of the town government, not as something that belongs to them and in which they may share and by which they should benefit, but as something that has to be maintained and to which taxes must be paid and they probably feel that the least of it there is, the better for them. Their ignorance and timidity are such also that it is still very easy for them to be abused by a powerful and unscrupulous man or official, defrauded, and deprived of many of the rights which the laws of the Philippines say that the people shall have.

It was in an essay called “Village and Rural Improvement Societies: A Series of Articles for Fourth Grade” by David P. Barrows, Director of Education, in Philippine Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1909, under a subsection titled “Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities.”

Barrows was in charge of reforming a national public educational system in the Philippines when it was a colony of the United States. In speaking about the “ordinary peoples” of the Philippines — the poorly educated working class that included my ancestors (and thus why I was reading this to begin with, wondering about what the education system was like for my ancestors, what those first years of America’s colonial system was like in the day-to-day implementation of a policy called “benevolent assimilation”) — he could’ve been talking about my fellow Americans who decry “big government” and taxes and think the system is rigged to only benefit the “elites.”

Are my fellow Americans who think like that suffering from some kind of colonized mind-set? Are the American nativists who support the current administration displaying a pattern of thinking in line with Filipinos who had been living for generations in distrust of the Spanish colonial rulers? Is this just one part of the great irony of the racial resentments being given space and time to flourish by certain white people in these United States: that they don’t rise out of the Western tradition of the Enlightenment; rather, they come out of the destructive system of colonization in which the victimized have historically had darker skin.

Continue reading →

Now listening: ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama describes a scene from her first day of school in which the teacher asks each students to try to read flashcards that have color words on them, such as blue, green, orange, and white. Competitive and proud, the young Michelle reads one after another until she gets stumped on white, even though she knew she knew it. Back at home, she studies up on the color words. The next day, she asks the teacher to test her again. This time, she doesn’t stumble but gets all the words just right.

This story is extraordinary. I don’t think most students would be capable of demanding to be re-tested like that. (At least, I don’t think I would have the wherewithal to speak up like that.) In effect, her act was an assertion of self against the power dynamics of the classroom in order to bolster her own position within those very power dynamics. How was she able to do that? That question hovered over her memoir. Is this an intrinsic part of her character? Or was she taught this? I’m not sure the book answers this questions directly, though Obama also tells the story of how she jumped ahead of her piano lessons to tackle more difficult works, much to the chagrin of her teacher. She also says numerous times about how she is a list-maker and box-checker. That is she believes in herself, is smart, and likes order, and has been that way pretty much all her life. So was asking for the retest an attempt to reclaim that sense of order, by reasserting before others that how she thinks about herself is truly how she is.

A clue to that girl’s tenacity can be found in an episode much later in the memoir, which she describes as having “to use what power I could find inside a situation I never would’ve chosen for myself.” That situation was the media and public’s fixation on her looks when she was First Lady; however, that sentiment could also be seen as the kind of thought process that powered the young Michelle to ask for a new test — her power was to ask the teacher, the situation she never would have chosen was to be seen as less than capable at spelling and color words than she knew she was.

Have you read or listened to “Becoming?” Let me know what you think.

2017 Year in Review in Podcasts

9fe8d62a052c05af026cccbc86ce1073e04f363fcc7c5fda6ce7b40c5ac23fad0bc8595632402b605e0683e40a6726f8cd25a9ee88ca38a3b1ac33b108a7c5c2A new podcast for me this year, and for everyone, is Pod Save America, the podcast created by former speechwriters in President Obama’s administration. It acts as a tonic or a resistance in the Trump era. It seems to be a successful rallying cry so far for people who are disillusioned at the current government. It is one of the most popular podcasts now. They are even taking the show on the road. It is released twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, which is a little too much for me. I enjoy the Monday ones the best, probably because the hosts are Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor, in addition to Jon Favreau, who I think do a better job than for the Thursday show when it is just Favreau and Dan Pfieffer. Favreau is usually in the role of setting things up, kind of the straight man, so it is stronger when there are two people playing off him instead of one (and Pfeiffer does have a hesitating way of speaking that isn’t great for audio). Also, as the show develops further, they have to find a way of better integrating the guest interviews with the introductory news punditry round-up: too often they steal the thunder from their guests, and so why listen to their guests?

You can find the podcast here: https://crooked.com/podcast-series/pod-save-america/

Continue reading →

Best ‘I Voted’ sticker of 2017

Would you vote for either of these guys?

In the newspaper business, we avoided using people’s names in a humorous way. But with these names popping up for local elections, I can’t help but wonder if these names are truth in advertisements. 

A crime


In this photo of the back of our car, you can see the outlines of where a car magnet had once been. That magnet was political. It said, “Hillary ’16.” The reason you don’t see it there is because someone in the parking lot of our hotel in Pittsburgh thought it’d be a good idea to remove the magnet.

At first we thought it was stolen. We felt victimized — doubly so, considering who won. Being back in western Pennsylvania, though, it seemed likely that some Tr*mp supporter feeling embolden but also a coward thought he or she would just rip off someone else’s property. We later did find the magnet face-down in the rain-soaked parking lot, as if it had been flung away from our car.

In the grand scheme of things, I know it isn’t that big of a deal. But still, come on.

A vision of America: Witnessing divisiveness together

Debate Watch Party

Debate Watch Party (Photo by Andrzej Pilaczyk)

How are college kids approaching this election? Where I work, we’ve had debate watching parties open to the public. The communal experience of watching the debates have been eye-opening for students, who say that they value the ability to share the moment with hundreds of others, to see in real life and in real time how others — fellow students and members of the community — respond to the words of the two major party political candidates.

The togetherness, the shared experience, are a vivid contradiction to the divisiveness of the campaigns. They are a moment of hope. More photos are here.

The next Debate Watch Party is at 9 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016. More info here.


Book review: Harry Frankfurt’s ‘On B.S.’

The following book review originally appeared in the July 31, 2005, edition of the Albany Times Union. A recent op-ed in The Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria called “The unbearable stench of Trump’s B.S.” references the book in describing the extreme lack of concern for the truth in statements from the Republican presidential candidate. The book, though, isn’t about Trump in general; rather, it is a challenge to everyone to examine how we may add to the world’s B.S. through our own contributions or by allowing others to get away with it.

k7929‘Hot air’ philosophy brings world into focus
By Michael Janairo

For reasons that will be obvious, the title — and thus the subject — of the book in this review cannot be printed in its entirety in a family friendly newspaper such as the Times Union.

That word (think bovine excrement), the author writes, is sometimes replaced by humbug, balderdash, claptrap, hokum, drivel, buncombe, imposture or quackery . But the book rightly calls these words “less intense” and suggests they have more to do with “considerations of gentility” than the phenomenon to which they refer. They lack the sharpness and subversion inherent in the vulgarity.

Continue reading →

Fun with numbers, primary-election style

As the primaries continue, I was wondering about turnout. Everyone says turnout is so important. Is there a connection between primary turnout and general election turnout? And how many people have the early voting states turned out?

I wanted numbers:

From the Des Moines Register on the Iowa caucuses:

Republicans counted more than 180,000 caucusgoers, topping their 2012 attendance record of 121,503 by an estimated 60,000 people.

But they didn’t have the Democratic Party numbers. I found those on Bustle.com:

Many precincts were delayed in reporting the Democratic results, but early Tuesday morning, the Iowa Democratic Party announced that171,109 Iowans participated in its caucuses. That’s a fall from 2008, which saw 239,000 vote in the Democratic caucuses throughout the state.

For New Hampshire, I found this from the Union Leader:

A record 542,459 ballots were cast Feb. 9, including a record number of Republican ballots: 287,683. Democrats cast 254,776 ballots, well below their record of 288,672 in 2008.

And for Nevada, Bustle.com reported the Republican turnout:

More than 75,000 Nevada Republicans caucused Tuesday night

AP had the figures on the Democratic side:

Officials say about 84,000 Nevada Democrats participated in Saturday’s caucuses, which is nearly 30 percent fewer than in 2008.

So it seemed like a thing – that the primaries were bringing out more Republicans than Democrats. And if turnout is so important, then maybe this isn’t a good thing for Democrats?

Then I read this in Vox:

The first is historical. Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and a voter turnout guru, notes that in 2000 the Republican primary turnout ran ahead of that for Democrats (by around 3 million votes), and yet Al Gore won the popular vote over George Bush.

And that was echoed on NPR.com:

McDonald pointed out that in 2000, Republican primary turnout was much heavier than it was for Democrats — and that election between George W. Bush and Al Gore ended up essentially deadlocked until the Supreme Court intervened.

So the stories were basically trying to say that there isn’t a strong relationship between primary and general election turnout. That the percentage of registered voters voting in primaries and caucuses is far lower than the number expected for the general election, and still far lower than number of registered voters. Then again, only 55 percent of the voting eligible population actually voted in 2012.

Being reminded of the 2000 vote, decided by the Supreme Court? Not very encouraging. If only more people voted.